Archive for the ‘stories’ Category
When I was ten, my family moved from a sprawling, three-acre avocado ranch just outside of San Diego to a tiny bungalow perched in the hills of Laguna Beach. A “fixer-upper,” my mom called it.
The initial fixing-up required some serious gutting of the floors and walls, so for a few glorious weeks we lived in a waterfront condo. Every morning, my mom would stroll along the beach, collecting ocean-polished pieces of white, green and blue sea glass. The best specimens were deposited in a jar for my sister and I to examine when we returned from school.
Many mornings, my mom noticed a fellow beach wanderer. An older woman, always alone. They’d smile and nod, then continue their silent, solitary strolls. Only later did my mom learn that her beach companion was Juditha Brown, mother of Nicole Brown Simpson.
This was September of 1995, when the OJ Simpson trial was in full swing ahead of its October 3rd verdict. Even if my parents had tried to shield my eight-year-old sister and me, their efforts would have been in vain. With nonstop coverage and speculation, that courtroom had infiltrated the living rooms of nearly every household in America.
It felt extra personal in Laguna Beach, where the two Simpson children lived with their grandmother. In what must have been an impossibly dark and surreal time, the city rallied to give them a semblance of normalcy. The local supermarket would remove all newspapers and tabloids from its stands when Juditha called to say she was running errands with her grandchildren. Parents made sure the siblings – a girl and boy – were included in all the normal childhood activities. I remember sitting across from the daughter of OJ and Nicole, their oldest child, at a birthday party at a skating rink. Surrounded by balloons and cake, I wanted so badly to say something to her, but couldn’t find the words.
Eventually, we moved into our new home in the hills, away from the ocean, sea glass, and Juditha. The house was still a work in progress, and a team of painters and carpenters were ever-present. In a town where everyone was a stranger, they were some of my first friends.
For my mom, even more so. My dad would leave for work, my sister and I would head to school, and she was left to supervise the transformation of our new home. As an interior designer, she usually loved this kind of project, but in this case she was distracted. The whole crew was. All day long, as contractors painted and hammered our house into shape, a radio would blast the latest news from the trial. The lead painter, a muscular, gregarious man named Peter (“Peter the Painter,” we called him), was particularly glued to the proceedings. When my sister I would return from school, he’d catch us up. And then we’d all listen to the radio together outside in the hot Southern California sun.
As the end of the trial grew near, my mom, understandably, was worried that Los Angeles would erupt into riots when OJ was declared guilty. And then the verdict came. An estimated 100 million people stopped to watch and listen.
OJ was innocent.
My mom and Peter the Painter wept.
It’s no coincidence that I’m remembering all this now, in the wake of Zimmerman’s acquittal in the murder of Trayvon Martin. The cases themselves, of course, have very little in common. But like the OJ Simpson case, this trial told a tragic story that captured national attention. It came to symbolize a much bigger debate about racism and its persistence in America. And its verdict angered and astonished many. As I write, reports of protests in Oakland and Los Angeles dominate my Twitter feed.
It’s possible that the Trayvon Martin case will represent for some kid today what the OJ Simpson case represented for me. Up until the OJ Simpson trial, I knew the justice system merely as one of the three branches of government they made us memorize in school. Up until the OJ Simpson trial, I didn’t realize that a good system could generate bad outcomes.
And I learned that while a jury, however divided, must always decide on a verdict, a nation could be hopelessly split in its aftermath.
Watching Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory the other day, I realized: this is not a tale for children.
Sure, there’s a chocolate waterfall, and tiny men singing silly songs. But as a kid, I just nodded along while reading the book or watching the movie. All its lessons made perfect sense: well duh if you’re a total brat – aka a “bad egg” – you’ll be sent down the garbage shoot to the incinerator. (And let’s be clear – as much as I love Johnny Depp’s chiseled cheekbones and Tim Burton’s dark creativity, Gene Wilder will always be the true Wonka in my eyes.)
But this resonance fades as we get older, and more cynical, and more…normal (ew). To the point where when re-watching the movie, you can only assume its makers were high out of their minds. Which is why this is really a story for adults…adults who need to be reminded that the world is as magical as you imagine it to be. Adults that have forgotten that there is indeed a difference between good and bad.
I’ve decided that Wonka is my new personal hero. (I hope to god I someday have to answer this question in a job interview. Cue awkward pause.) And it certainly doesn’t hurt that he’s the mouthpiece for some of the greatest quotes of all time.
A brief sampling of my favorite Wonka wisdom:
Don’t try to tame life’s uncertainties; celebrate them. Or in Wonka’s words, “The suspense is terrible. I hope it will last.”
Never stop believing that perfection is, indeed, possible. And don’t apologize for success. “Don’t forget what happened to the man who suddenly got everything he ever wanted. He lived happily ever after.”
Some people just suck. If they want to turn themselves into giant blueberries, or miniaturize themselves during TV travel, just keep moving right along. The oompa-loompas can deal. After all, there is “so much time and so little to do. Wait a minute. Strike that. Reverse it.”
Other Wonka gems:
- “Oh, you should never ever doubt what nobody is sure about.”
- “The snozzberries taste like snozzberries.”
- “Candy is dandy, but liquor is quicker.” (Word.)
- “Invention, my dear friends, is 93% perspiration, 6% electricity, 4% evaporation, and 2% butterscotch ripple”
And lastly, because I’m naturally (and nerdily) predisposed to drawing technology parallels, I really can’t think of a better guru for entrepreneurs – especially those already belonging to the School of Jobs. Think Apple’s product secrecy is absurdly locked down? Wonka’s distrust of humans drove him all the way to Loompaland to recruit a tribe of hard working Oompa-Loompas (altruistically saving them from the Whangdoodles and Vermicioius Knids in the process). Had Jobs had access to an engineering and design-inclined equivalent, I’m sure he’d have happily housed them in the Infinite Loop. And if you believe paranoia to be a virtue, how about charging Slugsworth, one of his own, to pose as an outside bidder for the coveted Everlasting Gobstopper?
And when it comes to creativity, no marketing campaign will ever match the sweet success of the five Golden Tickets, which drove massive brand awareness among target consumers (overly indulgent parents with $$) and consumers (sweet-toothed children), ravenous media coverage, and flat-out gluttonous Wonka Bar sales. Wonka didn’t just create products people love; he created magical experiences along with them (hello, chocolate waterfall). No brand has ever been more imbued with “pure imagination” and creativity. And he is the undisputed master of inventing entirely new product categories – sure, phones and tablets are pretty cool, but what about travel by TV, or gravity defying soda? I’d wager the Oompa-Loompas were witness to a fair amount of reality distortion at the Factory.
And lest you think I’m totally loopy by this point, just remember: “A little nonsense now and then is relished by the wisest men.”